Thursday, November 27, 2008

Love Thursday: Say Cheese Edition

Family photo sessions can be stressful for kids. There's something about being coaxed to smile on command, about the pressure of being recorded for posterity, about the focused attention that you have no control over, that can make a kid really crabby and embarrassed and unhappy.

I speak from experience; one of my earliest memories is of an extended-family photo session that took place in my family's apartment when I was about three years old. The vague memory I have of crying and feeling miserable and guilty and out of control is corroborated by the photo itself, which features over a dozen gamely smiling parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, plus my oblivious and photogenic then-baby brother, and me, the outlier, pouting in the edge of the frame in my fancy dress.

The Mermaid Girl, alas, is of a similar opinion. And it's just her misfortune to live in an era of ubiquitous digital cameras, and to have not only two (or three, or four, depending on how you're counting) adoring parents, but also more than the usual complement of grandparents and other grownup relatives, all of whom want to snap photos of her, or look at photos of her, or both.

As a result, she spends a lot of her life ducking and scowling as cameras are pointed at her. Mostly--o irony of ironies--pointed by me, the former photo-hating child.

When my mom offered to hire a professional photographer during the time when she and my brother and his family were all visiting here last month, I had mixed feelings: I thought it would be nice to have a picture of all of us together, but I didn't think MG would be happy about it.

And, indeed, she was not: the photo session was supposed to take place in the park, but it was pouring rain on the appointed day and so we had to relocate to our hastily-cleaned living room. The session time was 2:00-4:00 PM, so MG came home from school that day to a house full of people in mid-photo-shoot, including her happy and photogenic little cousin, who was having a swell time and chatting up a storm with the photographer. MG was hungry and tired and wanted to unwind, but we didn't have time for that. The photographer was only there for another 45 minutes, and she had to go pose right away: first by herself, then with us.

Of course, she'd been prepared ahead of time and knew this was going to happen. And of course, we knew the timing and circumstances weren't ideal. But it was the only way we could make the session work at all, so we'd just scheduled it when we could and hoped for the best.

I will not go into detail about how that worked out. Suffice it to say, none of us--including MG--were very happy with our kid by the end of the photo shoot.

Just before my mom left a few weeks later, the photographer sent her an email with a link to the photo proof page. I was afraid to look at them, sure that MG's crabbiness and our frustration would be evident in each shot, and that we'd have nothing usable at all to send to the many friends and relations who'd be waiting for pictures.

And then I looked at the page, and was astonished.

Somehow, in the midst of that far-from-ideal afternoon, the photographer had managed to take several shots of our child that managed to actually make it appear that she was having a good time, and even caught one (only one) of the three of us where RW and I don't look like we want to strangle her. There were also happy, friendly photos of my brother and me together, and of my brother's family, including their gorgeous daughter, and a few of all seven of us, miraculously all smiling at the same time.

It was as if the photographer had strained this messy, sometimes-squabbling, sometimes-grouchy imperfect group of people through her lens and found the family we are at our best: happy, convivial, relaxed--ourselves, our real selves, our real family, but better.

I'm sure that many dozens of shots were discarded in the midst of those few good ones. But the good ones were there. It's good to remember that.

Even MG liked them when she saw them. My favorite, though, which is also my mom's favorite, is one that the Mermaid Girl hated on sight. So, relatives, please forgive us if we don't send it out-- you'll be getting one of the happy ones, which is also what we'll have on our mantelpiece. But just as I love that she could catch our best selves in the midst of that rainy afternoon, I love what this photographer could see in a sulky, angry kid who was looking her straight in the eye and refusing to smile.

Because I love this kid, too, as well as the cheerful, compliant one.

Happy Love Thursday. And may those of you who are spending this weekend with family be able to find beauty in the ordinary happy moments and maybe even in the unsmiling ones, too.


Anonymous Phantom Scribbler said...

Knocked out by the gorgeous photo. I wish that photographer could grab my kids and show me the beauty in their moods.

Happy Love Thursday!

1:33 PM  
Blogger Of Life, Education, E-bay, Travel & Books said...

I think it's an amazing photo - she's such a little beauty - those cheekbones!

3:08 PM  
Blogger jo(e) said...

What a beautiful photo!

3:36 PM  
Anonymous rachel said...

Love the picture. She's a strong, strong character, that one.

This is the same reason that I chose the school picture of B that looks like he's plotting something. By golly, he probably was. I want to remember the quirks, not the obedient smile.

3:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness, she is GORGEOUS. And that photographer totally caught that.

6:11 PM  
Blogger Pamelamama said...


10:05 PM  
Anonymous Arwen said...

So gorgeous; and how well you tell stories.

10:52 PM  
Anonymous Arwen said...

Also, is love thursday every thursday?

10:55 PM  
Blogger elswhere said...

Arwen-- Yep; I just only remember to do it every once in a while. There's a clearinghouse every week at Chookoloonks. Here's the link:

Going to go link it on the post, too; I forgot the first time around.

11:06 PM  
Blogger Tall Kate said...

Your post made me a little teary -- I, too, have a child who despises having a camera pointed at him -- and then the picture of your daughter just knocked me out. Beautiful.

4:07 PM  
Blogger Meghan said...

Her photo literally made my heart leap. What a beauty! Thank you, as always, for sharing your life with us.

3:17 PM  
Blogger liz said...

That is a beautiful photo. What a wonderful and timeless face your daughter has.

7:09 AM  
Anonymous cheesefairy said...

Oh, good photography leaves me breathless. I see such a marvelous, interesting, hilarious girl in there. Thanks for sharing.

2:43 PM  

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